Department of English Newsletter: September 2013

In this issue:

Interview with Zipporah/”What Are You Reading?”/Faculty Notes/Interview with Kichner/Ongoing Projects: Ricca/Alumni News/Graduate Blog/Evil Conference

Interview with Zena Zipporah (’70)

Zena Zipporah: “As an artist of this Kali Yuga age, balancing on this earth which teeters on the last leg of the table of creation, I am an archivist, a collector of old objects, texts, and images, vanishing languages, customs and religions of all places, celebrating creations, disasters, prayers, religious texts, myths, gods and goddesses, swamis, pandits, religious leaders, shamans, holy men and women, knowers of lost knowledge. My art is copying, inventing, trying to understand what went before me and what is coming after me. I draw, paint, embroider, copy mystical and holy texts in miniature and write my autobiography on eggs, collage ancient icons [and] images on baby and doll dresses, bonnets, socks, on books that are made and found, on stone balls, handmade paper, and eggs of all species. I am trying to make sense of who I am, trying to learn the secrets before they are lost.”

CWRU: You were a writer and poet before you became a visual artist. How did the shift in emphasis come about? You often include language, quotations, words as part of your artwork. Are they more important as design elements or actual text?

Zipporah: I was an English major both at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and for my Master’s at Case Western Reserve University (where my favorite course was Contemporary Poetry with Robert Wallace).  I never gave a thought to anything but writing and perhaps teaching.  Not long after my degree, I took some evening courses at the Cleveland Institute of Art and ended up in Gwen Cooper’s Papermaking course.  The first assignment was to make a book, and somehow art and writing became all mixed up and I started making hybrids, putting a poem on handmade paper with rubber-stamp letters I made.

I wrote a lot after 1975 when I got divorced the first time.  I think I published a little bit and taught at a few schools for the Ohio Arts Council Arts- in -Education program.  I think I wrote until Bob Fox at the Arts Council fired me from the Writing Program because I got a fellowship from the OAC in Visual Art.  It was a few decades before I really started writing again, though I incorporated aspects of language into my art.  For instance, “My Autobiography on Eggs,” in which I wrote out twenty-five or thirty chapters on as many chicken eggs that were blown out. Turns out, they weren’t blown out enough because critters were inside there and they had to go in a vacuum chamber for a few months before they could be displayed at the Akron Museum. “The Dress of Vanishing Languages” actually has text from hundreds of dead and dying languages and took me two years to complete.

In the art world, although many artists employ text, sometimes very artfully, I don’t think many viewers take the time to read and absorb it.  But I am excited by and attached to language and can’t help using it. I think language serves both purposes. It fills the space and conceptually it means something.  Although as I said, many viewers and curators only address the former.

Continue reading Zipporah’s interview here.

“What are You Reading?” Roundtable

Michael Clune: 
In inviting members of the department to share their recent reading with us, we had several goals in mind. First, we wanted to give everyone an opportunity to sample the rich diversity of intellectual and creative projects faculty, students, and lecturers pursue in English at Case. But in addition to sharing our work life, we also hoped to encourage participants to tell us about reading they pursued for reasons unrelated—or unclearly related—to their research. Speaking for myself, I’ve always found promiscuous reading to be a major part of my pleasure in life, and a spur to that most challenging of all intellectual tasks—thinking new thoughts. Everything I’ve written has had its origin in a piece of reading that at the time seemed to have no conceivable relation to my work. I think our panelists did a wonderful job at fulfilling both of these goals. Greg and Megan shared material relevant to their fascinating books-in-progress. Sarah and Gary talked about books with interestingly oblique relations to their ongoing concerns as writers and thinkers. And Thom offered a heartfelt tribute to a poet whose work had informed his sense of vocation in changing ways over a period of many years. Cara presented us with a charming example of the way an unexpected find opens new possibilities and unexpected questions in an ongoing research project. The event was a relaxed and engaging introduction to our revamped colloquium series, and we hope to make it a start-of-the-semester tradition.

Greg Weiss: 
In The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2008), Richard Holmes posits that, between approximately 1750 and 1850, many of the most famous scientific, literary, and historical events in England arose from a sense of wonder. His argument takes the form of a series of biographies of figures such as Humphrey Davy and William Herschel (scientists), Mary Shelley (writer), and Mungo Park and Joseph Banks (explorers). Banks, in addition to landing on Tahiti with Captain Cook in 1769, served as President of the Royal Society, the leading scientific institution of the day, from 1778-1820, and his career serves as the book’s unifying thread. In addition to being convincing, Holmes’s emphasis on wonder highlights the extent to which the era’s science, literature, and exploration influenced each other thematically, often through the personal relationships between their leading practitioners.

Sarah Gridley: 
The book I shared for the “What Are You Reading?” colloquium is David Esterly’s The Lost Carving: a Journey to the Heart of Making. I am always looking for discussions of creative work in other fields that might refresh my ways of thinking about my own craft (writing poetry). Esterly carves lime wood (in America, linden wood) in the traditional “subtractive” method. The lost carving of his title references a Hampton Court carving made by17th century carver, Grinling Gibbons. Esterly was the only American permitted to join the restoration/conservation team following the fire there in 1986. He had fallen in love with Gibbon’s style of carving—cascading flowers and fruits—fifteen years earlier, when he had encountered one in St. James Church, Piccadilly. From that point onward he apprenticed himself, as he puts it, “to a phantom.” Born in Akron, Ohio, Esterly had a Fulbright to Cambridge in the 1970s, where he wrote a dissertation on Yeats and Plotinus. His own writing is vividly descriptive, and he shares a number of helpful insights on topics such as emulation, failure, and mimesis.

Megan Jewell: 
My book is  Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, revised edition published by Sun & Moon in 1987. (An earlier version was published by Burning Deck in 1980.)

I am working on a book that focuses on how Language and Language-oriented poets address in their works major modes of writing instruction currently taught in university classrooms. The poets in my study demonstrate a sustained critical exploration of fundamental writing elements that they present in terms strikingly conversant with composition theories ranging from those of the mid-century to the very recent. Most major composition textbooks consistently provide instruction on the following elements: the writing process, including generating ideas, drafting and revision; the research process; developing arguments; and citing sources.  The poets I focus on here not only demonstrate sustained critical attention to these writing concepts in their works, but submit a fully historicized reconceptualization of them that is significant in terms of current teaching practices.

My as of yet unfinished chapter focuses on Lyn Hejinian’s hybrid memoir/long prose poem My Life. Published around the same time as the other works, and, incidentally, the best selling “Language” poetry volume of all time, My Life contains 45 prose poems or chapters, each composed of 45 lines, each representing a year in the poet’s life at the time of writing.  I feel that students of composition have much to learn from what is Hejinian’s “de-personalized/personal” memoir as well as the ways in which she manipulates the conventions of genre.  Further, her work, engaging in what Lisa Samuels calls “motivated proceduralism” also calls attention to the complex ways in which both form and formlessness are useful for writers, and how the personal can be de-personalized (and vice versa) not only with pronouns, but inherently in the use of a specific form.

Gary Stonum: 
Over the summer I’ve been rereading Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit, in light of Agamben and Kant’s third critique.

No, I haven’t. I have been reading ambitious genre fiction, including China Miéville’s The City and the City. A clever fusion of several formulaic genres, one without panting aspirations to the litfic genre, the novel respects the formulae and takes maximum advantage of their virtues and limits. Three genres combine:

1. the noir-ish police procedural complete with down-at-the heels detective;
2. fantasy with its construction of a coherent, self-contained and invented world;
3. postmodern stories of paranoia and surveillance, in which a secret order is revealed to be watching and manipulating us.

They combine via the novel’s central conceit, two cities, each in a different country, with different languages and customs but geographically superimposed on one another and requiring citizens of each city to unsee all persons and places in the other.

Cara Byrne: 
In 2001, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1927 manuscript Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-Tales From the Gulf States was published for the first time, after Hurston’s anthropological notes spent 30 years in a university basement and 20 more at the Smithsonian in storage. Beginning in 2004, the Zora Neale Hurston Trust and publisher HarperCollins teamed up with renowned African American artists and authors, including Joyce Carol Thomas and Brian Collier, to publish a series of children’s books based on the stories and phrases found in Every Tongue

During the colloquium, I shared one of these picture books: What’s the Hurry, Fox? And Other Animal Stories. As there is little evidence that Hurston ever wrote fiction or nonfiction explicitly for or about children, these adaptations for young children represent a clear and distinct departure from her existing body of creative work, directly associating her name, reputation and biography to the stories she collected from women, men and children along the Gulf coast. I briefly explored the issues of authorship, adaptation, and genre that this deceptively simple picture book brings to light.

Thom Dawkins: 
When poets greet one another, it’s often with the question, “Who do you read?” No matter who asks the question, I always start with Seamus Heaney. It’s my way of first proving that I know well-crafted, gorgeous verse. It’s my way of saying that poetry can be politically motivated without losing any personality or seriousness. And it’s my way of saying that poetry can be formed from the dirt below our feet. Heaney’s Ireland with its peat rows and bogs gave me permission to dig into my own past, into all the places that made me, into all the relationships that shaped me, for good or ill.

Seamus Heaney died the morning of the colloquium, and since the moment I flipped on the radio and heard the news, it’s been impossible for me to think about anything else.

Please contact Megan Jewell,, if you are a department member interested in taking part in the spring semester version of “What Are You Reading?”

Other department members, alums, and friends can send their version of “What Are You Reading?” for publication on our Facebook page to


Faculty Notes

The new issue of the journal Nonsite features a group of leading experts on science and the humanities responding to English professor Michael W. Clune’s recent book,Writing Against Time (Stanford University Press, 2013).

T.Kenny Fountain‘s book, Rhetoric in the Flesh: Trained Vision, Technical Expertise, and the Gross Anatomy Lab, will be published by Routledge in 2014.

William Marling discusses The Great Gatsby on Northeast Public Radio’s Academic Minute.

Gary Stonum‘s book–Emily Dickinson and Philosophy–has been published by Cambridge University Press.

Athena Vrettos‘s article,“‘In the clothes of dead people’: Vernon Lee and Ancestral Memory,” appears in Victorian Studies (Winter 2013) with a response essay by Jules Law.

Martha Woodmansee presented a paper, “The Author Function in the Era of the Entertainment Franchise,” at a Sage Handbook of Intellectual Property symposium hosted by the Durham University Institute of Advanced Studies, June 29-30, in Durham, England.


Interview with Heather Kichner (’08)

Reader, pass on!—don’t waste your time

O’er bad biography and bitter rhyme:

For what I am this crumbling clay ensures:

And what I was is no affair of yours. (quoted in Kichner 65)

CWRU: When did the first inkling of your subject matter occur to you?

Kichner: In a course with Dr. Athena Vrettos, who later became my dissertation advisor, I was captivated by an epitaph found in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. That epitaph became the focal point for my course seminar paper.  Not long after that, I was reading Bleak House for another class with Dr. Vrettos, and I was again struck by the prominence of epitaphic themes and burial scenes in the novels we’d been discussing.  Bleak House focuses on “dishonored heaps of graves” and an anonymous corpse. The Woman in White and Carmilla showcase mishandled corpses and grave-side scenes.  I began to wonder why many Victorian novels seemed preoccupied with burial tropes, mistaken identity, and epitaph writing.  It didn’t take much digging (pardon the awful pun) to see that these literary works echoed and explored nineteenth-century cultural concerns about remembrance and identity.  In some long and fruitful talks with Professor Roger Salomon, I realized that I could easily discuss those Victorian works

Continue reading Kichner’s interview here.

Ongoing Projects

by Brad Ricca (’03)

My dissertation identified and analyzed new scientific sources in the work of Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe. I worked with Gary Lee Stonum and it was an incredibly rewarding intellectual project.

This past June, my book about Superman came out.

So what happened? I wanted a change. Big projects can do that to you. I have always loved and been fascinated by comics, but I started working on Supermanbecause no one had done it before, not in the way we English people understand.  And by “English people” I don’t mean British people or even English-speakers (or people who watch a lot of BBC shows), I mean people who do The Work: the searching, the reading, the thinking, and the writing in the candlelight at the top of the stairs (that’s a bit romanticized, but you know what I mean). Nobody had takenSuperman seriously enough to apply The Work to a fictional guy who wears his underwear on the outside.

That seemed a mistake to me. So I delved all over town and into libraries and attics until I found out that Superman’s two young Cleveland creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (working just a few minutes away from Guilford), developed the character in the 1930s as a kind of imaginative autobiographical experiment. I uncovered real stories about false identities, mystical cults, a man who stopped a bullet, who Lois Lane was, and the heartbreaking tale of how Siegel and Shuster sold the Man of Steel for a little over a hundred dollars. It turns out that Superman— the simple character our parents may have yelled at us for reading under the covers with a flashlight—was really more interesting than just pop entertainment. The colors that floated and sped across our eyes were not just pantone mixtures; Superman was a complicated metaphorical project. Comics may perhaps stretch the traditional boundaries of an English department, but they don’t stretch the boundaries of The Work. Nothing ever does.

There was a steep learning curve and no small amount of luck in getting this book made. I changed my writing style, experimented with genre, and had to deal with fact-checkers and copyeditors— all while trying not to sacrifice any of the information or interpretation of the story itself. But aside from a typo on page 169, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t say that for any reason other than this: The Work— long, ongoing, regardless of the project— is always worth it. Why? There may always be questions about what we should be doing as (ongoing) English majors, but when I was working on Superman, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. That is the best kind of work there is.

Brad Ricca is a SAGES Fellow at CWRU and is the author of Super Boys (St. Martin’s, 2013)


Graduate Student Picnic 2013



The English Graduate Student Association blog is now live:


Alumni News

Katherine Clark (’08) and Shelley Costa (’83) were featured at CCPL’s event “Killer Heat: Cool off with a Hot Mystery” in July at the Beachwood Branch.

Alum (’10) Iris Jamahl Dunkle‘s book,The Flying Trolley, is now available from Finishing Line Press.

Amanda Giffi (’09) is starting her third year as an MFA candidate (poetry)— thesis year! She’s also teaching English 101 at the University of Maryland.

Amy Kesegich (’01) is now the Chair of English, Communication, Modern Languages, and Theatre at Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio.

The second edition of alum (’70) Lolette Kuby‘s book Faith and the Placebo Effect: An Argument for Self-healing has just been released by the British publisher, White Crow Books.


Summer 2014 Conference

Evil Incarnate: Manifestations of Villains and Villainy

July 11-13, 2014

The concept of villainy is a universal: the dichotomy of good versus evil has been a central conflict underlying ideologies and praxis across cultures and time. What, after all, is a hero without the villain as a foil? This conference asks: what defines villainy? Is it moral? Cultural? Inherent or the product of circumstance?  How are villains represented textually, culturally, and politically? What does the presence of the villain do to the issues in which they are embedded? How would the issues change in their absence?

Ultimately, we seek definition for villains in an attempt to overturn the characterizing of this pursuit as “[T]he motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity,” because, unfortunately, the designation of evil incarnate is also that of villainy beyond understanding (S. T. Coleridge). Instead, this conference asks whether W.H. Auden provided a more accurate depiction in his assertion that “evil is unspectacular and always human.” We hope that by coming to terms with villains and villainy, we can better understand the meaning of a hero’s victory.

Please send 300-word abstracts for papers of 20 minutes to by January 1, 2014. The abstract should also include a 50-word biographical note and AV requests. Please indicate if you wish the abstract to be considered for inclusion in the post-conference publications. We will send acceptances by February 28, 2014.

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